Maria (pronounced Ma-rye-ah) Fearing was born near Gainesville, AL, in 1838. She was a house servant of Mr. William Overton Winston and his wife Amanda. William O. Winston was one of the original settlers in the county of Sumter and was also a first cousin to Alabama's first native-born Governor John Anthony Winston.
Maria took the name Fearing, as her father did, from a former master when they were freed. At the age of 33, in 1871, she went to Talladega, AL, to a school for former slaves, and then became a teacher in Calhoun County, AL.
In 1894, at the age of 56, she left for Africa to become a missionary in Luebo. After her retirement at the age of 78, in 1915, she taught school in Selma before moving back to Gainesville, not far from where she was born.
Maria Fearing died at the age of 99 on May 23, 1937, and her name entered the Alabama history books about twenty-five years later. Her likeness is now part of an amazing mural by artist Jason Guynes on the walls of the private dining room of The University of West Alabama's Bell Conference Center.
More information about Maria Fearing can be gotten from the Sumter County Historical Society, or perhaps your local library.